HAMILTON — In the minds of the coaching staffs, the significance of Wednesday night’s pre-season game between the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium would be about executing the playbook and assessing talent.
Yet Toronto’s 29-24 win was always going to be just a little more significant because it was so strange to see Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray not wearing Edmonton’s green and gold, and Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris out of Calgary’s red and white.
The former Alberta rivals have brought their veteran talents east after off-season moves, and both teams have unabashed optimism their star quarterback is about to embark on a memorable journey to the 100th Grey Cup. Wednesday night’s game in front of 27,585 was the first and farthest point from the final game on Nov. 25 at Toronto’s Roger Centre.
Both quarterbacks were given their stage in separate quarters to build some kind of positive beginning.
Ray started for Toronto and finished 5 for 8 for 49 yards. The 32-year-old looked a little unsure at the beginning, missing his first three passes before hitting receiver Patrick Carter for 23 yards. Ray was missing expected starting receivers Jason Barnes, Maurice Mann and slotback Andre Durie because of injury, but he eventually found his rhythm, thanks to a few Hamilton roughing-the-passer and offside penalties, and three straight completions to running back Cory Boyd, slotback Samie Parker and receiver Chad Owens to end the first quarter.
Ray left the game after Boyd’s second short touchdown run gave Toronto a 14-0 lead at 13:47 of the second quarter. Boyd finished with 10 rushing yards on five carries.
Hamilton backup Quinton Porter unexpectedly started the game and led the Ticats first-team offence, including last season’s rookie-of-the-year receiver Chris Williams, and 2010 outstanding Canadian and former Saskatchewan slotback Andy Fantuz.
It was, however, rookie running back Chevon Walker who powered Hamilton early. The 24-year-old, who supposedly ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash in an off-season workout, had 63 rushing yards on six carries, consistently blazing into the second level of Toronto’s defence.
Burris arrived just as Ray left in the second quarter. Piloting Hamilton’s first-team offence, he was quickly running across field and exposing the Argos’ developing secondary. Defensive backs Jamaan Webb, Pacino Horne and Raymond Brown were each caught playing too loose as Burris hit receiver Sam Giguère for a 51-yard pass to set up Burris for a one-yard touchdown run. Then Burris found Williams for 75-yard touchdown pass over defensive back Matt Black to tie the score. He also led a drive to score a field goal for a 17-15 halftime lead.
Burris finished 7 of 15 for 214 yards and one touchdown, with his one conspicuous, if characteristic, mistake coming when he tried to fit a 20-yard pass into the end zone that was easily intercepted by defensive back Patrick Watkins.
As most bodies crashed about and made mistakes, the most interesting roster battle to emerge from Toronto’s win is the battle to be the Argos’ third-string quarterback behind Ray and Jarious Jackson. Trevor Harris started the third quarter and finished 7 for 10 for 84 yards, floating a nice 20-yard pass to Gerald Riggs Jr.
Zach Collaros entered later in the third and also supplied a 13-yard scoring pass to Jessie Hubbard to start the final period.
The battle to be Hamilton’s third quarterback probably tilted in Dan LeFevour’s favour, only because former Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier was so poor, missing his four throws and giving up an interception. LeFevour finished 8 for 15 for 99 yards and one touchdown.